Saturday, March 12, 2011

The perks of a broadcaster

This is the scene: It is late Friday morning in Fort Myers. On a practice field on the Twins complex -- the field furthest from Hammond Stadium, physically and symbolically -- the Twins minor leaguers are gathered. It is reporting day for the dozens of players who are too young, too raw, too lacking in current ability, to be in the major league camp, which has been in session now almost a month.

There is no actual practice today. The players check in, have their physical, are divided into small groups and timed on a four-lap run around the warning track. They don't even have numbered jerseys yet.

There is little to see here. But the major league workouts have ended on the other end of the complex, there's still a couple of hours before the exhibition game with the Red Sox begins, and a few dozen fans have wandered to the minor league side.

And in a one-mound bullpen squeezed between the field where players are running laps and the path where the spectators stand, a scrawny lefty is throwing to another left-hander in a catchers' crouch. The catcher is wearing a fielder's glove. He is Gary Lucas, former major league pitcher, now a coach in the lower levels of the Twins system.

It is quickly apparent that Lucas is deconstructing the pitcher's delivery to such an extent that one wonders How did this kid get signed? And then one notices, standing in the corner of the bullpen taking it all in, Dick Bremer, the Twins TV play-by-play man.

A spectator calls out to Bremer about Bert Blyleven's whereabouts. Bremer says he does't expect Bert to be around until Monday (the Monday game is to be televised back home). Lucas tells the youngster he's letting go off the ball "up here" and needs to let go "out in front," which will bring the pitch down. The kid throws a lower pitch. See how that one moved? Lucas exclaims.

Lucas is ready to wrap up this semi-private tutoring session; so is the kid. Lucas coaxes him to throw a strike. We're going to end this with a strike, or a least a neighborhood pitch. I know you've got it in you. The lefty finally fires one over the plate, and Lucas bounces up, chats with the youngster a bit, accepts thanks from the senior Bremer, assesses the youngster's fastball at about 70 mph, inquires as to his age, and heads to the field.

The broadcaster joins his son, who says something quietly about not expecting the spectators. The father is not exactly sympathetic.

On the warning track, the first group of runners is staggering to the end of their final lap.

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